FBI arrests at least 9 Houstonians in business email compromise scheme operation

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Several Houstonians have been arrested following a global FBI operation that targeted email compromise schemes.

According to a release from the FBI, Operation Eagle Sweep was carried out over a three-month period. In total, 65 suspects were arrested in the United States and overseas, including 12 in Nigeria, eight in South Africa, two in Canada and one in Cambodia.

Among those arrested were at least nine suspects from Houston.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes target employees of businesses that make payments through wire transfers, according to the FBI.

The scammers typically gain access to a company's email accounts or spoof their email addresses to send legitimate-sounding and well-timed requests for wire transfers.

However, the bank accounts provided for the wire transfers are controlled by the criminals. The FBI said BEC scammers also target individuals, often real estate purchasers and the elderly.

In total, the FBI said victims of BEC or similar email compromise schemes reported nearly $2.4 billion in losses in 2021 alone.

Operation Eagle Sweep began targeting BEC scammers believed to be responsible for targeting over 500 U.S. victims, causing losses exceeding $51 million, in September of 2021.

The FBI said Oluwasegun Baiyewu, 36, of Houston was arrested by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as part of a larger investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Puerto Rico and Houston.

The investigation into Baiyewu and another suspect revealed that they were involved in an international money laundering conspiracy in which a network of money mules moved at least $4.5 million dollars in fraud funds obtained from BEC and other fraud schemes from the United States to Nigeria.

The suspects reportedly targeted a Puerto Rico-based renewable energy supplier.

Meanwhile, Ashley Crespo, 27; David Alvarado, 21; Wendy Elizabeth Ramos Lopez, 29; Dayana Zaila Ramos, 32; Alvaro Umanzor, 23; Luis Lopez, 39; Jerome Crawford, 25; and Jamal Moore, 25, all from Houston, were indicted on charges of laundering almost $900,000 of proceeds from a separate BEC scam.

The FBI believes the eight suspects, in collaboration with other groups, have laundered almost $4.5 million over a period of two years, with victim businesses all over the world.

The arrests were made after an investigation by FBI's Houston field office, the Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"The FBI works tirelessly with our domestic and international partners to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises, to stop the victimization of U.S. citizens and businesses, and to impose real consequences on cybercriminals using our unique authorities and enduring partnerships," said Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran. "Operation Eagle Sweep's success is directly attributed to our global reach and worldwide partnerships. Our message to criminals involved in these BEC schemes will remain clear: We will pursue you no matter where you may be located. The public we serve deserves nothing less."

Victims of BEC can file a complaint online with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.